Friday, March 25, 2016

Blame the Greeks

They gave us Democracy (demos : people, kratia : rule) along with its perverse cousin, Demagoguery (agogos : leader). It’s a package deal. Add to that their word Xenos (strange), and we have xenophobia, fear of otherness. The result is a tragedy of Greek proportions.

Early on a demagogue was just a leader of the people, the common people that is. He was generally benign but quick to rouse the rabble unlike the learned who tended toward deliberation. Aristotle denounced their intemperance.

The word, gadfly, was used in Plato’s account of Socrates defense. He cites the essential role it plays to challenge and reinvigorate a democracy by disrupting the status quo in the service of truth. However, in the hands of self-serving megalomaniac, a gadfly can also sting the animal that causes a stampede.

When I ran for milk monitor in kindergarten did I promise two cows in every garage? If I had only thought of it then I might have won. It didn’t work for Herbert Hoover either when he promised a chicken in every pot, two cars in every garage.

Politicians are always painting a future they cannot deliver. Hopefully the electorate tacitly understands and smells the baloney. We allow for a modicum of malarkey. But Donald Trump has broken new ground in his arrogance, deceit and bluster. He lives in a bubble of rhetorical ignorance void of any substance. As Lawrence O’Donnell put it, he is not running for President but for king.

The demotic has long been a concern in a democracy.  An ill-informed, fearful and armed mob can be whipped into a frenzy particularly in this world of instant connectivity. In the process they willingly abdicate their autonomy.  

The demagogue, with a good ear for collective complaints and a sure charisma, doesn’t orate. He speaks conversationally, like it is, in the agreed-upon language, audaciously, and with absolute certainty. He gives voice to the outrages his followers couldn’t quite articulate or wouldn’t dare. His word is unimpeachable. He is father. They are being re-parented. Children must behave. Daddy will tell you who to hate, who to mock, to beat up. Order and greatness must be restored. The trains must run on time, the train to yesterday, to nowhere.

Athenian democracy fell into tyranny after a failed invasion of Sicily. The hubris of exceptionalism, led to the hegemony of expansionism and finally the humiliation of extinction. 

John Adams warned, There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide. The carton of milk ends up a glass of Kool-aid laced with hemlock.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mumsie Lives

There comes a time in life, like it or not, to acknowledge whose son I am. Marketing was a day my mother’s mishegoss was on full display. Schlepping packages was much more colorful than merely carrying them. From many a stick-ball game I had to absent myself to lug the groceries up three flights in our walk-up apartment.

I think she found a perverse joy in her aggravation. Has anyone before or since haggled at the checkstand? I haven’t tried except to drop that word, haggle, and see what reaction I get. Usually a laugh.

As far as I can recall she confined her excursions to the A&P and a once-a-week ten block walk to a kosher butcher. She was under his spell, convinced he held the best cuts especially for her. Where I saw splattered blood on his apron she probably saw roses blooming. The shop is alive in my mind with its chicken feathers, sawdust floor and strands of fly paper.

I find myself shopping at no less than six markets. Mumsie would be proud. Gelsons is now having their grand-opening in our neighborhood.  I ventured in yesterday to mingle with the 1% and case the joint. I expect they will be my place if I’m trying to impress a visiting dignitary.

Smart and Final, which I call Finally Smart, is my choice for Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea. I can also be found at the 99 Cent Store. Nothing is beneath me. They carry a low-carb cereal called Twigs as well as honeydew when in season. It is the very same melon Costco offers for three times the price.

The big-box store supplies most of our provender. It’s a great challenge eating a dozen plums before they go bad. But I can’t resist the bargain. If I were shameless like Mumsie I’d start selling them off while waiting in line or go door-to-door when I get home. On the other hand one never knows when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir may drop in for an after-theater snack.

Ralph’s market gets the lion’s share of whatever Costco doesn’t stock. They also carry low-carb bagels and Carbmaster yogurt with a small fraction of the carb content compared to the regular brands.

The sixth store to provide a small chunk of comestibles is Trader Joe. When I run in for one item I invariably end up with six. They have the world’s largest selection of guilt-free junk food. In addition T.J. can be counted on for quick frozen dishes and the best mushroom soup in town.

One might ask, what about Whole Foods and the farmer’s market. If I ever reached for an over-priced tomato my inner-mother would slap my hand. She didn’t know from organic or local produce. If one must choose between pests or pesticides (for half the price) I’ll go with chemicals and wash the carcinogens down the drain. Indefensible as it may be, blame my mother and leave me alone.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Anniversary of Myself

In a few days I shall be a year older. So says the calendar. The vernal equinox is supposed to be the time for flowers to bloom in the spring, tra la.

I can no longer rely on the coral tree outside my window. It is lagging a couple of seasons behind with green leaves just now going golden in the autumn of its cycle. If this is a signifier I’ll take it. At 83 I’m well into my winter.

I’ve always counted on the coral tree to celebrate my birthday with its array of orange-red candles. On San Vicente Blvd approaching the beach, there are two miles of coral trees already in bloom. They were planted in 1950 when the red car line was ripped out and have since become a treasured landmark. At least they preserved the red.

Our illustrious mayor, Sam Yorty, whose mouth far exceeded his brain in its evolution, declared the coral tree was in keeping with our Spanish / Mexican heritage even though it is indigenous to South Africa.

Unlike myself, the trees evidently enjoy being pruned. Otherwise their limbs give way posing a danger to passing joggers. There are worse ways to die than being felled by a barked limb festooned with red floral lanterns. In my next incarnation I wouldn’t mind becoming a tree particularly a flowering one with its own calligraphy of twisted branches and a nest or two in the crook of its elbows.

The runners remind me of my younger glory days when, as a freshman, I was a sensational star athlete for the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy varsity basketball team. The older I get the better I used to be, as Sandy Koufax put it. I actually played only four games when it became clear I couldn’t memorize structural formulas and dribble at the same time.

Wait, I think I hear a choir of song birds from the coral trees of San Vicente singing Happy Birthday…or is that a garbage truck backing up?

Nothing can surpass Peggy taking me to dinner with one of her poems
written for the occasion. Our 32nd anniversary will be coming up a few days after my birthday. Back then Peggy was twelve years older than I but she has subtracted a year every birthday so now I am twenty years her senior. That must be why the coral tree outside our window is so confused.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Remembering Barbara Pascal

There are those in our midst whose measure of worth is not the achieve of… though she did achieve.

Nor is it anything to be quantified or Googled…though she certainly did make her mark in the Art Book world.

The way I remember Barbara is how I always felt so fully met. So received. A reception that elicited a loving response in return.  Even on her down days when you could almost hear her silent struggles.

I loved the way she would talk back to the T.V. set…no don’t open that door……….or you deserve what you got, you bum. Barbara wanted to set the world right.

I found such delight in her wackadoddle emails. Every other word was mis-spelled as if it had arrived, unfiltered, from her own distant country. 
Yet for all the indecipherable sentences it bore Barbara’s unmistakable sui generis signature. A stream of her immediacy.  

She sought the seclusion of the Hebrides, both the real and imagined place, an inner-Hebrides away from the clamor without and within.

Most of all, I think, she wanted to curl up on a cozy couch with book in hand, preferably a book about books, lost in their pages. She was herself, at times, an open book albeit with yet un-cut pages. Highly collectible. Worn a bit on the edges. Else fine. A rare first edition. One of a kind. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Finding Your Disowned Trump

In 1980 as part of a group poem Allen Ginsberg gave his class the opening line, I’m going to vote for Ronald Reagan because

It was an exercise in liberating the imagination by probing the part of the brain we don’t wish to visit. In another sense he might have been asking us to embrace, if for a moment, that dark side of our self where our own Ronald Reagan lives.

In this vein I’ve decided to list my reasons for voting for Donald Trump without the usual filters of my censorious mind.

1-   Because I didn’t burn the raisin bread toast this morning and Peggy is well and therefore the world is already perfect.

2-   Because I hate figs, feta cheese and fettuccine for no good reason.

3-   Because I just lied about the fettuccine.

4-   Because it will bring us closer to revolution.

5-   Because I’ve always loved Canada

6-   Because sometimes I need someone to hate

7-   Because I’ve always secretly wanted to act in a movie about Nazi Germany.

Now I am traveling inward to find my own Donald Trump. Here I am, age fourteen, berating some twelve–year old kid on the soft-ball team for dropping a pop fly. Maybe I also ridiculed his speech defect or promised to negotiate a higher grade for him with his teacher.

Come to think of it I did meet my inner Trump in 8th grade. I had been in P.S. 99 since Kindergarten obeying all the rules and behaving myself. I sat up straight, played well with others and didn’t run with scissors. It was time to overthrow the regime, to burst out of my knotted tie, my penal servitude.

I became part of a gang of guys, dedicated to malicious mischief, who nominated the worst student among us for class president to deliver a speech on Graduation Day. Robert Haimowitz had been left back 2 or 3 times. He was probably autistic or brain-damaged. In today’s world he would have been in a Special Needs program. We were cruel and stupid, feeling our oats.

We got him elected. Ms. Seabury, our teacher conferred with the principal and un-elected him. We were reprimanded soundly. The snicker disappeared from my face. For a few hours I walked in Donald Trump’s shoes feeling superior. Do his voters realize they are having their Robert Haimowitz moment?